Ometepe, Nicaragua: Travel/Tourist Information Guide
Ometepe, also known as Isla de Ometepe, is the largest island located in Lago Nicaragua, or Lake Nicaragua (also known as Cocibolca or Granada). The island is a part of the Republic of Nicaragua. It was formed by twin volcanoes, Concepción and Maderas, which rose from the lake. The volcanoes are joined together by a thin, flat isthmus, which makes the shape of the island look like an hourglass. The name “Ometepe” comes from the Nahuatl words “ome” and “tepetl”, which means “two mountains”. The island once served as a native Indian burial ground.
The highest point in Ometepe is Concepción volcano. Concepción is an active, perfectly cone-shaped volcano in the northern half of the island. Maderas is an extinct volcano in the southern half of the island and is frequently obscured by clouds. It has a lagoon surrounded in mist in its crater. Volcanic ash has made the soil in the island extremely fertile, and allows for continuous planting. That’s why the island is heavily dependent on agriculture and raising livestock. Plantains are the major crop in Ometepe. There are also a few coffee plantations in the island.
Population in the island is estimated to be over 29,600. The most important villages in Ometepe are Altagracia on the eastern side, which is the second biggest town in the island, and Moyogalpa on the northwestern side, a harbor village and docking point for ferries. Locals are proud of their culture and traditions, and have kept many of them alive through the generations. Ometepe locals celebrate the most number of folk and religious festivals in all of Nicaragua.
Tourism is an ongoing developing industry in the island, with a focus on ethical eco-tourism. The island has also been an exciting destination for archeologists who have excavated thousands of pre-Columbian petroglyphs and ceramic pieces. Majority of these artifacts are on display in Museo El Ceibo. Ometepe offers nature sanctuaries, archeological sites, plus an abundance of exotic flora and fauna as draws for tourists, especially adventurous backpackers. Famous wildlife in the island are large populations of the white-headed Capuchin monkey and mantled howler monkey. Other notable animals in the area include the Nicaragua shark, spider monkeys, and a distinctive species of rice rat. Activities tourists can engage in include: hiking the two volcanoes and San Ramon waterfall, archeological site viewings, cycling, fishing, horseback riding, kayaking, swimming, and trekking.
Ometepe Island is virtually safer compared to other parts of Nicaragua. Despite that, caution should still be exercised. Do not leave your things unattended while at the beach, and do not walk alone late at night. Most of the danger lies in the terrain like unmarked, perilous trails and the occasional volcanic activity. It is now illegal to climb the volcanoes without a guide, brought about by many incidences of people getting lost in the hiking trails or even dying while climbing the volcanoes.
Getting around Ometepe
The Ometepe La Paloma Airport is the sole airport servicing the island. Slow local buses travel around most villages in the island. You can easily flag down a bus from the side of the road. Taxis are available. Rental bicycles, motorcycles, and scooters are also available. When riding motorcycles, keep an eye out for hazards such as animals like dogs and cows crossing the road. Majority of the roads are paved but narrow. Expect the roads to be better during the dry season.